A few weekends ago our family jumped in the car and headed to Normandy for a long weekend. I will provide additional details on the trip in future entries, as it was one of my favourite trips that we have taken in the last 2 years.

A big part of the trip was the goal of finding one of Narda’s relatives in the war cemetery near the D-Day landings. Veterans Affairs has done an amazing job through the Canada Remembers project of cataloguing where our war dead lay.

2009 05 03 St Desire War Cemetery_

I do not have immediate relatives who served in the Canadian forces during WWII as my family mostly moved from Holland in the 50’s. Ross Ellsmere served in the Air Force as a pilot and died a month before D-Day (probably on a bombing run).  He is buried at St. Desir Cemetery, which is found after a long and winding drive through the French countryside. On the road we were lucky to see the small sign pointing down a side road, in the middle of nowhere. I wondered what it would be like.

Situated just out side of the town of Lisieux, famed for the Basilica dedicated to St Therese is one of the smaller British Cemeteries.

At first the  British and Commonwealth War Graves Commission buried the fallen German troops in a field next doo, where they still are. The Cemetery contains the dead from three different battles. Firstly there are four First Would War Burials who were transferred here after then end of WWII. There are men who fell in 1940 during the retreat to the Seine and those who fell in 1944 during the recapture of the area. Recently the local French village has made a walkway of peace between the two cemeteries

In all there are 598 graves here including 16 Canadian, 6 Australian, 1 New Zealand, 5 South African, and 1 American.

When I stepped out of the car I was hit with two feelings. The first is pride, the cemetery is immaculate – pristine and beautiful. The government is taking care of our war heroes in the right way. The second is a sense of magnitude. This is a small cemetery (550), but the rows and rows of graves is humbling, a testament to the price that was paid for our freedom.

2009 05 03 St Desire War Cemetery  (4)

2009 05 03 St Desire War Cemetery  (17)

The grave of Ross Ellsmere (22) is surrounded by men who died on the same day. It was a bloody day and you are struck by one thing – the age. Very few are older than 22 or 23.

2009 05 03 St Desire War Cemetery  (18)

2009 05 03 St Desire War Cemetery  (11)

Right beside the cemetery is St. Desir-de-Lisieux, the German cemetery. Unlike the Allied cemetery, there are no words on the graves written from loved ones. There is just name, rank, date. In fact, there are 2 men to each cross and as the picture shows, it is a very big cemetery – 3,735 to be exact.

2009 05 03 St Desir-de-Lisieux German cemetary (5)

2009 05 03 St Desir-de-Lisieux German cemetary (6)

Never forget.


  1. Hi Michael
    I just ‘discovered’ your post about Ross Ellsmere. I am related to Ross. His Mother was my Grandmother’s (Eva) sister. I am interested to to know your interest and connection to Ross.

  2. Hi Lois,
    As I mention in the post above, the relation is through my wife Narda, daughter to Lynn and Nick. I believe that Ross’ mother was a great Aunt. I met her a few times.

    While in Normandy we drove deep into the French countryside to find the cemetery. We almost turned back at one point as it was well out of the way, confusing to find (a not-well marked side road) and growing later in the day.

    I am glad we didn’t. Our entire family found it a humbling experience.

  3. Ok, I saw that you mentioned Narda, but wasn’t sure who she is. So, I would like to know more about her connection to the family, who are Lynn and Nick? Good for you guys sticking to the search in finding Ross’ grave. About 30 years ago a sister of my Mother tried to find his grave, but I don’t think she really had enough info and didn’t find it. I guess Aunt Agnes (Ross’ mother) was disappointed I, too, met Aunt Agnes a few times. I have a nice picture of Ross in uniform. Let me know if you would like a copy of this. I also found on-line the squadron log for the time his plane went missing. Have you seen that? You can e-mail me at

  4. Hi to all the relatives of the lost of war..Last week we drove back from a holiday in Spain and like you we spotted the sign for the cemetary,so with car and caravan we pulled off the road onto what could only be decribed as a country lane.

    We were there for a good hour and like you myself and my wife Sue felt very humbled,the cemetary is immaculate even in the cold of January it is still left stunningly beautiful,although my grandad lost his right leg in the 1st world war and survived,my father was too yound for the second ,,I am now 62 all our parents long gone but we still feel it is our duty whenever we are travelling through France to stop whenever we see a sign to pay our respects.

    God rest all the fallen buried in St Desir and all the other cemetaries of the world.

    Dave and Sue!! Annetts.

  5. i too have an uncle in this cemetrey he was private francis english died on the 20th of aug 1944 age 21yrs is home town was bradford yks england i have visited is grave 3 times .

  6. I’m going to this cemetery tomorrow I have many friends in Bradford I will take some flowers for your uncle. John howarth. Halifax

    • Thanks for sharing Jamie. It was a proud moment for our family to see our relative there. Many young men like Ross left their small towns to fight the war and tyranny of the Nazis. Ironically, I am writing you as we head to the holocaust museum in Israel

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s